Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Disciplina: Little bird

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer reads aloud the story of a little bird—a puppet is the bird—and a peasant.

About the work:
This tale comes from the Disciplina clericalis, a collection of tales by a 12th-century Spanish writer, Pedro Alfonso (or Petrus Alphonsus); like many stories in the volume, it is close to the fable tradition since its purpose is to teach wisdom and make fun of foolishness. Recourse to the animal world—here, the wise little bird—also draws it close to the fable tradition. Many medieval versions of this story exist in French and other vernaculars.

About the genre:
Despite the title “lay,” which is sometimes given to it, this story is part of the tale and fable traditions; this sort of story is also called in Latin an “exemplum” because it teaches by example.

This story belongs to the tale tradition. The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’sMetamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

A fable is a short tale, frequently featuring animals; most fables have a clear moral point, often stated explicitly at the beginning or end. Medieval European fables generally draw heavily on those of Aesop, who in turn was influenced by Indian and other Eastern fables and moral tales.

About the edition/translation:
The Scholar’s Guide: A Translation of the Twelfth-Century Disciplina Clericalis of Pedro Alfonso, tr. Joseph Ramon Jones and John Eston Keller, Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1969, pp. 86-7. Original: Petri Alfonsi Disciplina Clericalis, I. Lateinische Text, ed. Alfons Hilka and Werner Söderhjelm, in Acta Societatis Scientiarum Fennicæ 38/4, Helsinfors, 1911.

About the performer/ensemble:
Tiffany Brown is a Drama student in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2006).

About the production:
This performance was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie ( E.B.) Vitz at New York University in fall 2006.